To the Editor:
“It’s not that most Americans regard growing income disparities as a nonproblem. It’s that they are more concerned about the ‘why’ of them than the fact of them” (Froma Harrop: “How we really feel about economic inequality,” Monday).
In other words, for Americans, income disparities, no matter the size, are OK as long as the rich can be seen as competent and motivated and the poor stupid and lazy.
Problems arise, however, when a person’s income is seen as his/her worth and used as evidence that the richer is more productive than the poorer and that the poorer is less motivated than the richer.
This happens too often when we restrict ourselves to personal characteristics to explain our own successes and others’ failures, reserving situational factors – like differential opportunities and incentives – to explain our own failures or others’ successes.
The fact is, however, everyone’s successes and failures depend on all four factors – skills and motives, opportunities and incentives. As do income disparities.
It would be helpful to remember this every time we encounter any argument that leaves any of these factors out since the crux of anyone’s argument about income disparities should not be exclusively about credit or blame, but about what opportunities and incentives we all need to provide so others can succeed and what skills and motivation we each need to bring to the table to avoid failure.